On 24th April 2020, the Prison Service published some detailed information about who can be released from prison to help manage the spread of COVID-19. You can read the full details in the Use of Compassionate Release on Temporary Licence document here.

The official documents are very detailed and contain lots of jargon. So we’ve tried to make the information easier to understand by answering some of the most common questions below. If you have any questions that are not answered here, or if you would like some more information about what all of this means, please get in touch with the Prisoners’ Families Helpline on 0808 808 2003 or via email.

What is compassionate Release on Temporary Licence (RoTL)?
At all times (i.e. not just during the COVID-19 pandemic) the Secretary of State can release prisoners in exceptional compassionate circumstances. These circumstances are very limited and do not usually include an individual’s own health conditions.

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the compassionate circumstances for release have been expanded. This means that the Secretary of State is now able to consider the temporary release of prisoners on the basis of their health conditions. In these cases, prisoners whose health conditions make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 may be suitable for compassionate release on temporary licence. This will only be allowed during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Who might be suitable to apply for compassionate Release on Temporary Licence (RoTL)?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the following prisoners might be suitable for compassionate RoTL:

• Pregnant women.
• Prisoners with their babies in prison.
• People defined by the NHS guidelines as ‘extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19.

Prisons should take steps to identify people in these groups and invite them to apply for RoTL, where they are suitable and willing to do so. This may mean asking for input from the healthcare team to confirm the medical status of some prisoners.

Prisons may also ask for advice from the healthcare team in cases of prisoners who are not in one of these categories but might face an equivalent level of vulnerability (based on the judgement of the healthcare team) that would mean they are suitable to be considered for RoTL.

How does someone apply for compassionate Release on Temporary Licence (RoTL)?
If someone believes they should be considered for compassionate release because they fall into one of the categories above, they can apply for something called a Special Purpose Licence (SPL) – this is a type of RoTL.

Who decides whether someone gets compassionate Release on Temporary Licence (RoTL)?
An official document called the Release on Temporary Licence Policy Framework sets out the procedure for deciding on whether to give someone a Special Purpose Licence (SPL). Prisoners will be assessed against the normal criteria (standards) for getting an SPL, including the need to keep the public safe. There will also be input from the prisoner’s Offender Manager and external agencies including the police. The decision will also take into account:

  • That the release will be for longer than a normal Special Purpose Licence.
  • The very unusual circumstances surrounding the release – i.e. that the country is in a period of lockdown and other measures which could affect risk, compliance and behaviour in the community.
  • The risk to the prisoner’s health and potentially their life, if RoTL is not granted (including how far their health can be protected in prison).
  • Whether the person has suitable accommodation to be released to and whether the social care and health needs can be met in the community. Someone will only be released once this care is in place, and due consideration has been given to how they will travel safely to their accommodation.

The final decision about RoTL will be made by individual prisons, but all proposed releases must be agreed by the Deputy Director of Prisons on behalf of the Secretary of State before they can happen.

How quickly will all this be decided?
Although the full risk assessment process must be followed, these cases should be considered urgent and dealt with as quickly as possible.

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